10 Million Skill Points

Well Freddy Facepalm hit the 10 Million Skill Point mark over the weekend working on some Core skills. It’s seems he’s become a Jack-of-all-trades, not being great at any single one area, but dabbling in everything. He currently knows 177 skills, 17 of which are level 5. Here’s the quintessential skills pie-chart:

Freddy Facepalm's Skills

It’s taken Freddy almost 9 months to accomplish this milestone, but here he is nonetheless. Perhaps I should invest in some +4 implants and finish off some Learning skills to speed things up. Regardless, it’s been a fun trip so far…now if I could only find a solid way to utilize all these skills.

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Star Trek Online: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Last night I finally reached Lieutenant Commander, a.k.a – Level 10. I would guesstimate that it took roughly 16 hours of playtime, so I guess I’ve logged some hours in space the past couple days. I’ve read many opinions of late and I thought I’d weigh in on the matter further, laying out the things I like and the things I don’t…in true Beta fashion.

I think I’ve seen a fair amount of the starting content, but I have yet to play the other race: Klingon. In terms of the Federation side you start out in the Beta Quadrant in the sector space nearest Earth. Your first ship is a Light Cruiser and you quickly build up a team of 4-5 Bridge Officers or BOs. As you advance you gain more and more Skill Points for both your character, as well as your BOs. You can then spend these points on various “skill trees” across the board, covering Ground & Space combat. An interesting mechanic which offers some good customization long term, but short term not so much. When I finally hit Lt. Cmdr. I had nearly all first tier skills maxed out, there were only a couple that I did not have points in, the others were all at ‘Level 9′, the highest. However, in the upper ranks there are lots more “branches” so it will not be possible to be master of all.

I enjoyed both the ground combat and the space combat, whilst leaning a little more towards the “spaceships & lazers, pew pew”. Being that this game is in space, and that there aren’t many other current MMOs in space, the majority of comparisons for STO are against EVE Online, which is I think flawed. Apples & Oranges in my opinion. EVE is very complex and meticulous in detail. You have a million different configurations for ships and skills and need to utilize strategy heavily to survive. STO is worlds apart from that. The space combat is simple at first (too simple for EVE Veterans), but eventually it grows more complex as you gain different weapons and ship skills. A direct combat session will likely only last 5 minutes at the longest (in solo encounters, not for missions overall) and involves mashing the keyboard with various “fire!” commands and adjusting your speed and maneuvering such that your various shields are taking their share of the damage and that your enemies are properly within your current weapons’ firing arcs, etc.. Ultimately I like it, if I had to envision space combat this is probably exactly what I would come up with…even if it is so simple.

Ground combat is also engaging, but much more similar to other scenarios and genres we’ve played before. If you are not in a team then you use your BO’s as support, otherwise your partners are a part of your “Away Team”. Depending upon your character creation decision of what ‘role’ you are (Engineer, Science, Tactical = Support, Medical, Weapons) you have varying abilities available to you. I chose Engineer and so I’m able to create small shield generators and phaser turrets to augment my team members abilities to heal and recharge our shields and fire the big guns at the bad guys. The missions are fairly blazay, but are varied enough to remain appealing.

I wouldn’t say that it is quite as time friendly as World of Warcraft, as some missions can take upwards of an hour to complete and there is no mid-mission saving. However it’s much easier to jump in and accomplish something than EVE Online. In addition, every single aspect of the game is instanced…everything. There is no single shard world of vast open space filled with thousands of ships…more like 10-30 other people and I don’t think that is even a possibility from the way it’s designed. The sector space map, for example, is a giant map that you navigate through normally which signifies your vessel travelling at warp speed to various parts of space. It’s big and bright and neat looking and thus gets super crowded with even 20 people, as ships and ship names cover up destinations and just adds to the clutter. The map would be simply unusable with even slightly larger groups of people.

Being that the game is in Beta, there are many rough edges and I cannot even imagine that they are thinking of shipping STO in 2 weeks. 2 weeks??? I’ve encountered so many issues I lost track. My favorite one so far is that I was stuck in space combat while in my human form. So as I would engage thrusters my character would start walking faster and faster eventually having his legs blur together he was running so fast. Eventually the client couldn’t handle me controlling my man in space and eventually took away control of my space craft and just started following the nearest enemy. Eventually I caught up to the enemy and it looked like my avatar was getting a wee bit friendly with whatever ship I was facing…monkeys & footballs if you will. So yeah, when this game goes “live” you will be effectively funding the continued beta development of this game. That’s not to say I won’t subscribe as I am enjoying my time in space and can put up with issues…as long as they aren’t game breaking. (The Klingons don’t even have basic functionality in their home port yet I hear)

I’ve read several ‘first impressions’ that wholly damn the entire game based on a couple of hours of playing, comparing it to any number of current MMOs and just throwing up their hands. I will completely agree that this game has it’s share of problems, but being Beta they are expected and I don’t think you can gauge the depth of this game in one short night of playing.

I think Cryptic would have benefited themselves if they opened the beta months ago and slowly showed progress patch after patch, but since they opened up a scant month before release they appear doomed. What were they trying to accomplish with a month long open beta? Typically the problems that arise in the full load testing phase (a.k.a. – open beta) are the big boys, the ship blockers, the ones you can’t fully test or comprehend until you have thousands upon thousands of people hitting your poor servers. Automated testing is great to a point, but I’ve never heard nor used a method that fully simulates “opening day”. But this wasn’t even a fully open beta as they limited the amount of keys that were given out. So with the apparently huge popularity of STO, (most likely indirectly increased from the recent Star Trek reboot movie last year…which was awesome) come opening day we’re likely going to see chaos. It seems to have an insurmountable amount of bugs and problems, some quite huge, like admitting to not having the server infrastructure due to poor planning numbers, this isn’t something that is fixable overnight.

Regardless I think the game has character. It’s been a lot of fun kicking the tires and enjoying the space combat. I’m not quite sure of it’s longevity (no trade skills, limited amount of ships & space, etc.) and my gut reaction is that after a month or two you’ll probably experience all that STO has to offer, but I hope I’m wrong.

So those are my thoughts after spending a fair amount of time in space. It’s kept me glued to my screen though even in its rough state, which is more than can be said of many games of late, so I’m sticking with it for the rest of beta. Now, I’m off to purchase my next class of ships, of which there are 3 (Cruiser, Escort, Science Vessel = All around, Attack, Support)…I’m thinking Science Vessel. “Who released the monkeys?!?!” (StarCraft quote of the day).

I Boldly Went…then it crashed

Captain’s Log, Supplemental:

If you haven’t yet heard Cryptic Studios has just launched the Open Beta for Star Trek Online. After reading several reviews and thoughts on the subject, and being a closet Trekkie from years gone by, I decided I’d take the plunge.

Now, this isn’t a truly “open” beta, as you must first have a key to get in. Luckily for me I waltzed over to Ten Ton Hammer and snagged one. I then spent about 4 hours downloading the 7+ GB install package (using BitTorrent btw, I highly recommend) and then…there it sat.

I was on the edge to begin with, as I’ve heard lots of negative things so far and I really didn’t want to set myself up for disappointment. But finally this morning I felt compelled enough to fire up STO and see for myself.

The installation went quite smooth, no real problems there. When the client finally loaded I jumped directly into character creation. For the most part I enjoyed this stage and had only a few issues with it. You can tweak nearly all areas of your character, but nothing to the extreme. When I adjusted, for example, the width of my nostrils it was hard to tell too much of a difference no matter how far I dragged the slider in either direction. I guess it might make a difference if you exaggerated every slider possible, but for the most part you can never get too extreme, just subtle changes. Finally, the color selection was pretty vast/tacky for my tastes as the choices were from a giant grid of colors ranging the spectrum, but they never felt natural once applied. Anyways, just some minor details.

In the end I chose a Human: William English “Bulldog” McQueen

William English "Bulldog" McQueen

Once that was finished you found yourself aboard a starship being attacked by The Borg. The initial tutorial consisted of getting you familiar with character movement and object interaction, standard stuff for any gamer used to the genre. Overall I felt the game was a bit “sluggish” if you will. Player actions and movements were just subtly delayed and didn’t feel immediate. I’m comparing my experience to World of Warcraft and therein I always felt everything was snappy, not a huge knock on STO but one nonetheless.

The starting tutorial area is instanced, so you will see your fair share of other players, mostly named XXUberDudeXX or HelloKittyVII or whatever nonsense, but it didn’t feel too over crowded. Eventually you complete the ‘run-around’ portion and advance to the starship control section. I quite enjoyed this stage, though it’s nothing like EVE, again slow, deliberate movements and actions of your ship…but ultimately it worked. The final stage of the tutorial is an ‘Away Team’ mission where you attempt to learn to control your NPC party members and more advanced combat controls.

My major problem with the tutorial, mainly the ship control and away team sections, was that the majority of features and UI were not explained and felt clunky. There is a narrator and for the most part you can get by with self discovery, but it should be smoother than that. If they added giant arrows or made sections of the UI flash that would be a great start, but for the most part nothing is explained fully and you just have to “wing it”. It took me a few minutes to figure out why my away team wasn’t following me…turns out they were set at a ‘rally point’ and I couldn’t figure out how to ‘un-rally’ them.

Once the tutorial was finished, and you were back at Earth, you could begin to play with the character skills, missions & limited ship creation. There were several NPCs that attempted to explain these various activities, but again I think they could do a bit better job of in-depth descriptions. Perhaps I’m just rusty, because again if you play with them enough it makes sense, but there is no clear cut advancement outline. What skills depend on other skills, etc.?

Eventually I took on my first mission which was to find a lost freighter, which entailed heading out to a space map which outlines the various systems. Again, I was a bit lost on what and how to do anything. Turns out the freighter was there on the map, but actually warping to it involved maneuvering close enough to the object on the map to then interact with it. Once you dropped out of warp you had to kill a few ruffian ships and then transport down to the ship to help. At this stage of the mission, the difficulty seemed to ramp up substantially and I found myself dead, or ‘incapacitated’. A quick re-spawn found myself attempting the mission stage over again, but in the heat of battle the server crashed and here I am writing this review.

So all in all, I’d say I enjoyed my time with Starfleet. I understand that this is still a beta and things will be fixed/improved, and I will continue to enjoy the beta and who knows, I might even subscribe. Ultimately STO did an amazing job of making you feel a part of the Star Trek world, from the environments, sounds & interactions, it just felt Trekkie to me, which is a good thing. There were some subtle issues with the speed and interaction of the client (I had to turn lots of the video settings down to make the game playable, even though my video card can easily handle the maxed out settings), but again this is a beta and those are to be expected.

Ultimately I think the success of the game is going to be it’s depth. I didn’t see any semblance of a player economy or trade skills, but again they might be there and I just couldn’t figure it out or being that the server is still in its infancy those portions aren’t flushed out yet. I would hope large scale fleet encounters and player battles are possible (ah la EVE Online), but I didn’t get the feel that was part of STO. So I can see this being a fun escape during breaks from more permanent commitments (i.e. – WoW, EVE, etc.), but I’m still unsure of it’s staying power.

We’ll see how the rest of the beta unfolds!

Rambling Review and the Fail Cascade

I apologize for the lack of posting lately. December turned out to be a whirlwind in real life and some things just didn’t make the time cut. I need to be better about writing posts ahead of time and/or breaking up my long posts into smaller, more manageable chunks. There have been many good guides for fledgling bloggers such as myself, I just need to follow them better. Since it’s been over a month since my last post, I figured I’d do a quick round-up review of December and then touch on where I’m headed.

Much has happened since I eventually found my way out of W-space. Upon my not-so-graceful exit I found myself practically broke and thus resolved myself to the monotony of running missions. But as I was still wallowing in self pity, I received a very generous gift of ISK from a member of the group who “helped” me out of W-space earlier. Again I apologize that is has taken me so long to thank you for your help!! As I’ve said in the past, one of the things I find so amazing in EVE is that so many people are willing to help you, even after they hunt you down and kill you. It’s a very strange dynamic, but I think it speaks volumes about the people that play EVE as I’ve never found this in any other MMO.

I used the generous ISK gift to replace my modest implants and to purchase and refit a new Drake. I was feeling pretty good at this point and jumped back to my home Wormhole to take on some Sleepers and mingle with the Alliance. Little did I know that I was in for an even nastier surprise than I had in my previous stint lost in space.

I spent a few days running easy combat sites solo and doing some mining, I was amazed at the bounties of W-space. You can quickly generate income if you have the right sites and a good amount of time. I was beginning to understand how Wormspace can be so profitable.

On the start of the third day I did my usual routine of scanning down any new anomalies in the system. I found that our daily Class 4 connection had decayed so I quickly searched for the new wormhole. I scanned it down and jumped through, making sure to take all the necessary precautions that I learned in my extended stay in W-space. Upon arriving on the other side, I found the new system to be completely devoid of player occupation. It had an abundance of combat, mining & gas sites and only one other connecting wormhole. I decided, since our system was completely empty of such sites, that I would return in my Drake and battle some sleepers. The next 3 hours would turn into one of the largest fail cascades I’ve ever had. (Fail Cascade = mistake after mistake after mistake, etc.)

One of the cardinal rules for flying through W-space is to always have a Probe Launcher fitted to your ship, NO exceptions. You would think, that after just spending over a week lost in W-space that I would take my hard earned lessons to heart…oh how easily one forgets. It only takes an instant, one simpl mistake, and it’s all over. Wormspace is completely unforgiving.

The mistake that started my fail cascade began when I returned to grab my newly minted Drake. Upon arrival I realized that my Drake had a small tractor beam fitted instead of a probe launcher. Now, instead of simply following the basic rules of W-space survival and fitting a probe launcher, I had a thought. It’s funny how you can take such a bad idea and very quickly convince yourself that ‘Hey, this might actually work!’. It’s at this moment that I wish I had someone around to slap me, but alas there was no one to save me from myself.

I decided against fitting a probe launcher and to instead keep my tractor beam. The train-of-thought I used to convince myself this wasn’t such a bad idea was simple: 1) The wormhole system was unoccupied. 2) The system opening had just spawned. And finally 3) The tractor beam will help speed things up. So off I went.

My second mistake were the assumptions I made above. Just because the WH you’re in isn’t occupied doesn’t mean any connecting WH’s are not as well. If you are going to be conducting operations in an empty system, be sure and check any and all connecting systems to see if you might eventually have company.

My third mistake came from not being completely thorough in my scanning. As it turned out, I had made all the appropriate bookmarks, except for the one that truly mattered…the way back home.

As you can see, a series of simple, mental errors can lead up to a climactic fail of epic proportions.

Upon arriving in the unoccupied C4 system I quickly warped to the nearest and easiest combat site and began engaging the resident Sleepers. Roughly half way through the site I realized my fatal error of not bookmarking my way home. I figured it would be no big deal, someone is surely in our home system that can come save me. Again, another faulty assumption as our system was currently empty and the majority of my Alliance mates were not online. As the reality of what might happen began to sink in (i.e. – I’d be stuck in a wormhole again, except this time without a probe launcher to find my way out, leaving only self-destruction) I picked up a Tier II Covert-Ops ship on scan. One of the only things I had been doing right this whole time was checking my Directional scanner constantly (the other was making numerous safe-spot bookmarks throughout the system). The ship was only on scan for a couple seconds before he cloaked up. Turns out the only other connecting wormhole was indeed occupied. At this point I wasn’t sure if the player was hostile or not, but regardless I quickly warped to one of my safe spots.

About this time an Alliance mate had logged and was gracious enough to help me out…the only problem being that he was in empire over 25 jumps away from our WH entrance. He quickly began his journey to rescue me all the while instructing me to keep moving in the wormhole, never stand still. Roughly an hour had passed and my savior was just about to enter our wormhole when I picked up the Covert-Ops ship again on my D-scanner. I still had nothing to worry about, or so I thought, because last time he had only come and gone. This time, however, he quickly launched Combat Probes and began the process of scanning me down. My anxiety began to rise quite quickly. My Alliance mate still had to scan down the entrance to the system I was in before he could help me escape. That last part took nearly 45 minutes, all the while I was playing Cat & Mouse with my stalker.

When the entrance to my current system was finally found there was yet another mistake. As soon as my Alliance mate jumped through to the system, he instructed me to engage my warp drive and warp to him. In a situation like this, impulse reactions typically do not end well. The proper thing for us to do would have been to survey the entrance/exit WH and make sure no one was waiting on either side. In this case we were both so focused on escaped we missed this crucial step. As soon as my warp drive activated, he shouted out “Abort! Abort! Abort!” but it was too late. It turned out that while I had been attempting to avoid my stalker, he had been amassing a support fleet. When I finally landed on the WH exit, their trap was sprung. Waiting for me were a number of Battleships, Assault Ships and a Heavy Interdictor.

As I jumped through the WH to our home system I found myself in the HIC’s warp bubble. I began taking damage and thought I might be able to escape if I jumped back through to the neighboring system and warped to a safe spot. This almost worked, however my poor Drake is like driving a Lincoln Continental…big, fat & slow. As I jumped through I quickly attempted to engaged my warp drive, but the Covert-Ops pilot from earlier had followed me through and almost instantly had me locked and jammed. At this point the timer for my to return to my home system was over 3 minutes, so I knew I was done for. The attacking fleet jumped in system and finished me off, however the HIC pilot had stayed on the other side of the WH. I was able to get my pod out to a safe spot, but it really didn’t matter at this point considering I had no ship and no way of getting home. I figured I’d give it one last shot after waiting for about 15 minutes. I was hoping our attackers had left, but this wasn’t the case. As I warped back to the exit and jumped through again I was jammed in the warp interdiction sphere and was eventually popped. The only silver lining was that since our attackers were so focused on me and my Drake, that my Alliance mate was able to get safely out of trouble and back home…though just barely.

So here I was again in an Empire Clone Vat Bay, not 2 days since my last visit. My only saving grace was that I had spent those 2 days amassing some WH minerals and salvage that luckily covered my loss. However I was quite disheartened over the whole experience because it seems the only thing I’m good at in EVE is dying. At this point I almost felt like giving up and going back to playing Solitaire, but that wouldn’t make for an exciting Blog now would it. Ultimately experiences like this only tend to build character and make you that much more aware of your decisions and the consequences that may result.

One of the other points I tried to take away from this fiasco was simply a reiteration of something I’ve said before, that so much success in EVE comes from playing and interacting in a group. It’s no secret that EVE is a very difficult game to fly solo in and remain engaged with. Ultimately, as with anything, it’s up to you to make the choice and put forth the effort to engage with yours peers and find those group interactions. Up until that point I had taken the solo approach to EVE, as I typically do with any MMO, and found how difficult accomplishments come. Thus I’ve tried to make a much for conscientious and concerted effort to find and engage in group play. Damn, I’m starting to go off the deep end now, rambling on about the meaning of social interaction, please somebody stop me! In short, I died, it sucked, I don’t want it to happen again, the end.

This was all in the first two weeks of December. Since then I’ve been mission running en force in Empire. I ran my first Level 4 mission just before Christmas and was amazed at the rewards you can reap! I was also part of a successful Alliance POS bash against a small group of encroaching players in our wormhole system, getting in on my very first killmail! The whole experience completely reiterated the point I was attempting to make earlier. Finally, I finished training to fly an Orca and Caldari Battleships, the problem now is that I simply can’t afford either…so it’s back to running missions. (Tip: running Lvl4 missions in a Drake will literally take hours and hours to complete, persistence is a virtue)

As for where I’m headed, I’ve queued up some longer missile skills to compliment me flying a Battleship, after which I want to get into Gunnery and Amarr ships. So it’s quite the extended plan considering I have nearly 10 million skillpoints and they’re all effectively wrapped up in Science & Industry.

Again I apologize for the extended absence and appreciate the patience with my wall-of-text rambles. That’s just par for the course I guess. Fly safe and we’ll see you out there!